work experience in Japan

Top 5 Weirdest Things in Japan

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Japan has always come across as the mysterious oriental country where the unusual is followed as normal. There are plenty of oddities to be discovered whilst in Japan, some of which will manage to provide you with a big dose of cultural shock. InternAsia has compiled for you a list of the top 5 weirdest things you’ll find in Japan and we assure you that once you’ve read them, you’ll want to visit Japan to experience them for yourself.

 

1. Cosplay

Cosplay in JapanFrom a simple mask to an artful and painstakingly designed costume, Japan is known for its people dressed up as specific characters. These characters may be sourced from manga, anime, and other sources such as video games, television, and movies and it is a part of the ethos of cosplay that anybody can be anything. It plays such an important role in Japanese culture that this “dressing up” has earned a term for itself known as “cosplay”, which comes from the contraction of the words costume and play. In addition to clothing, cosplayers can also be seen wearing accessories such as wigs, colourful contact lenses and even temporary tattoos or body paint to change their skin colour. Once the outfit is set, many will then go on and transform themselves completely into the character by also adopting their behaviour, mannerisms, and body language. It is therefore not unusual to see young people wearing distinctive costumes and makeup walking through the streets in Tokyo’s districts like Akihabara or Harajuku. Cosplayers have created a sort of subculture that is part of the day-to-day life. There can even be found a number of cosplay restaurants that cater to devoted anime and cosplay fans with waitresses dressing up as video game or anime characters. Maid cafés are particularly popular among these.

The cosplay hype has gotten so much attention, that there are official cosplay conventions and events held. One of the largest events is the Comiket (or Comic Market) which takes place twice every year on Odaiba, an artificial island off Tokyo. The three-day event attracts thousands of revellers all interested in the world of anime, manga, and cosplay. These conventions can be otherworldly experiences that bring fiction to life. Official cosplay competitions can take place in some events where cosplayers can participate as long as their costume is hand-made and totally original. Cosplay has also made its way into social networks, websites and other forms of media. This rapid growth in the number of people cosplaying as a hobby since the 90s has made the phenomenon a significant aspect not only of Japanese culture, but also other parts of Asia and even in the Western world.

 

2. Themed cafés

Cosplay themed cafés aren’t the only type of themed cafés found in Japan. In fact, Japan is widely known for having bizarre themed cafés and restaurants that are seen as extremely unusual especially in Western cultures. This shows that Japan is not only committed to creating ground-breaking technology or constructing mega arcades, but whole original dining experiences as well.

themed cafe in JapanIf enjoying an afternoon surrounded by animals whilst at the same time enjoy a cup of coffee is what you’re after, head to one of the following cafés. Akiba Fukurou is a popular owl café in Tokyo that make these birds their start attraction whilst making your experience at the café a relaxing and soothing one. Temari no Ouchi is the go-to café for cat lovers, whereas at Ms. Bunny Café you can spend your afternoon surrounded by rabbits. At Zauo, you can experience the term “cooking your own meat” from a whole different level. Here, you enjoy your dinner sitting in a giant replica of a boat and fish your own food from the giant lake that surrounds the boat. Once you’ve “fished” your dinner, you can then give it to the cook for him to prepare it.

If animals aren’t what you’re looking for, Japan’s got you covered. At the Vampire Café in Ginza you can dine with Dracula and feel like you just stepped into the lavish den of a creature of the night. From covered walls with red velvet and red floor covered in red blood cells, to a decoration with a delicate touch of morbid, every last detail is crafted to create a vast and eerie dining landscape. For those that prefer to dine in a less dark and more colourful environment, you can enter the bizarre world of Lewis Carroll. At Alice in Fantasy Book you’ll find that the place is much more than a restaurant. It’s a labyrinth of storybook pages, followed by a stack of books that make you feel caterpillar-sized. Upon entering the main dining room you’ll feel completely immersed into the story. You’ll find the hedges from the queen’s garden, a ceiling with enormous cards on it, and chairs in the shape of rose bushes. To top off the interior design, even the food is themed, and you can enjoy an appetizer in the shape of cut-out cards and roses, or an ice cream dessert that resembles the Cheshire cat.

 

3. Capsule hotels

capsule hotels in JapanCreating space for real estate development in the centre of Tokyo can be a bit of a challenge. However, the Japanese cleverly found a way around it, by coming up with a great solution. The capsule hotel was initially created for business men and have recently become popular for low budget travellers and foreign tourists looking for a more daring experience. Capsule hotels debuted in 1979 in Osaka with the “Capsule Hotel Inn Osaka” with the term “capsule” being commonly used when referring to “very futuristic and compact” things. Despite using the term “hotel”, a capsule hotel resembles more a hostel rather than a hotel.

If you don’t feel comfortable in tight spaces, you might want to skip on the experience. A single capsule usually measures 1 - 2m wide, 2m long and 1m high. The inside of the capsule varies a bit depending on the hotel, but generally you’ll find a bed, some shelves and power outlets, often a small locker and sometimes a TV. Capsules are stacked side-by-side, two units high, with steps providing access to the second level rooms. The open end of the capsule can be closed for privacy with a curtain or a fibreglass door. Luggage is stored in a locker usually found in the changing room, and washrooms are communal. High-speed internet access and basic amenities like toiletries can also be found depending on the hotel. Generally speaking, most capsule hotels will require you to take off your shoes when entering and put on slippers, which you’re usually given upon arrival.

One of the most widely known capsule hotels are Nine Hours. Their hotels are constructed simplistic with each capsule being a single plastic tube, with indents for shelves and a power plug. The hotel in itself is a tall building, and each floor has about two dozen capsules. Men and women are separated by floor with separate elevators, one that goes to the men’s floors and one that goes to the women’s floors. Other capsule hotels found in Japan include the Green Plaza Shinjuku, Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510, Capsule Ryokan Kyoto or 9hours. Keep in mind that some capsule hotels are male customers only.

 

4. Robot hotels

It’s not unknown that Japan is one of the most futuristic countries in the world with AI having an increasingly more important role. It thus comes to no surprise that Japan is the country to open the world’s first hotel run by robots. At the Henn-Na Hotel located on the Kyushu Island all receptionists, bellhops, and concierges greet guests with the sweet, soothing mechanical voice of artificial intelligence. Called “the most efficient hotel in the world”, it is a prime example of AI replacing traditionally human-occupied jobs. Over 90% of the staff consists of autonomous robots, a total of 186 machines. This cuts down labour costs and makes it possible to stay in the hotel for 9.000 yen ($80), a bargain for Japan, where stays can easily cost twice or three times as much.

Upon entering, three front desk clerks will be awaiting you: an eerily realistic female robot and two eager velociraptors dressed as bellhops that even ask you to hand over your credit card whilst making jokes. After checking in, a one-foot robotized concierge will explain breakfast times and other hotel information. The red porter robot will then escort you to your room. To unlock the door, no key is needed. Simply place your face in front of the sensor and facial-recognition technology will open the door (your face is registered during check-in). Upon entering the room, you’ll meet Churi-chan, a pink and green miniature robot which offers wakeup calls, informs you about the weather and can even control the lights (there are no light switches on the wall). Like any other hotel, you also have the chance to store your goods in a locker. The “robot cloak room”, a giant robotic arm, sits in glass quarters in the lobby and will give you a box for you to put your personal items inside and then place the box back into the wall until you come back to retrieve it. All this to highlight innovation. The downside to all this technology involving voice recognition: accents other than standard English are not well understood and questions such as “is room service possible?” might be answered with “28 degrees, humid with showers”.

Robots, however, are not capable yet to do every task a hotel requires. They can’t search for lost keys (thus the face recognition system), they can’t call a taxi for you, they can’t make beds, they can’t supervise one-another, and, at the end of the day, they are still technology meaning something could be faulty in the system. Which is why there are still regular human employees in the hotel such as housekeeping staff, supervisors, and security.

 

5. The banishment room

Banishment room in JapanJapanese culture is known to have strong labour laws and a tradition of permanent employment, meaning that if a company employs someone, it is usually for life. Firing someone is not a common practice. Apart from this custom, Japanese businesses are all about saving money even if that means not firing people. So instead of firing employees, Japanese have come up with a strange cultural exit management strategy in which they ask employees to re-locate to banishment rooms (oidashibeya).

Historically, these societal and legal constraints Japanese companies find themselves in make it difficult to fire employees and led to a phenomenon called the madogiwazoku. This literally translates to “the tribe that sits by the windows”. Those employees whose services were no longer needed, but that the company could not or did not want to fire, would be given a pleasant spot by the window to while away working hours by reading the newspaper. Over time, as the Japanese economy has had to deal with many years of recession, and the increasingly stiff winds of global competition, many Japanese companies have found themselves with more redundant staff than could fit at the window seats. In response, many Japanese firms have introduced early retirement programs. However, not everyone who is offered early retirement chooses to take it. Thus, Japanese companies have come up with this new method of sending these employees to banishment rooms. In these rooms, employees are sent to do tasks that serve no purpose or are mind numbingly boring and find themselves stripped away without a business card and in a windowless room. One example of tasks given to these employees includes asking the staff to stare at a TV monitor for up to 10h/day.

In the context of Japanese culture in which murahachibu (ostracism from the group) is a traditional and strong form of punishment, the goal behind the oidashbeya is that stripped of their status, ties with colleagues, and interesting work, the employees who are placed there will eventually quit out of shame and sheer boredom. Apart from following the custom of lifetime employment by not firing, but instead re-locating them, it also makes employees no longer entitled to company benefits and, thus, saves the company money.

 

Are you ready to experience these unusual things in Japan? An internship gives you a great opportunity to do so! Have a look at our partners in Japan that help you organize your internship in Japan. Still not sure where in Japan you want to go? Then head over to our destinations page and read more about the different cities.

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